NZ crews selected for World Blind Sailing Champs

Eitjes and Tolaro, Blind World Sailing Champions for 2007
Event Media

Blind Sailing New Zealand has announced the New Zealand Trust Blind Sailing teams to defend the world championship title at the IFDS World Blind Sailing Championships in Rotorua from 13 to 21 March 2009.

Each boat has a crew of four people - two blind and two sighted people. There are three classifications - B1 (totally blind), B2 (can see light and dark) and B3 (impaired vision, eg. tunnel vision).

The B1 crew will be skippered by Taumarunui’s Dick Lancaster with Rob Aislabie from Rotorua as the mainsail trimmer. Phil Robinson from Auckland will be the crew’s sighted tactician. The forward hand is yet to be chosen.

The B2 crew will consist of Paulien Eitjes from Tauranga at the helm, mainsail trimmer Tom Donaghy from Ngatea and Tauranga father and son combination tactician Gary Smith and forward hand Phil Smith.

Rotorua's Eddie Moree will take the helm in the B3 crew, along with mainsail trimmer Dave Allerton from Urenui and sighted tactician Paul Moriarty from New Plymouth. The fourth crew member is still to be selected.

World Blind Sailing Championships organising committee chairman Don McGowan says the sighted people essentially perform support roles in the crew.

'The tactician is a sighted person but the yacht is skippered by a blind person. A sighted person is not allowed to touch the helm at all.'

The 2009 event will be sailed in Noelex 25 yachts, which are being provided by owners with support from the Noelex 25 Association. The yachts will be fitted with new sails to ensure a level contest for competitors.

Blind sailor and a former B2 gold medalist Dick Lancaster says the crews will be training hard over the coming months and hope the home country advantage will help them in their bid for gold.

'We’re all very familiar with the Noelex 25 yachts and the fickle nature of the wind racing on inland waterways, so sailing on Lake Rotorua won’t be anything strange to us,' Dick said.

At the 2006 World Blind Sailing Championships in Rhode Island, New York the New Zealand crews won gold in the B2, silver in the B1 and bronze in the B3, giving them the most points overall and the title of world champions.

Blind and visual impaired sailors rely a lot more on their tactile senses. In the past 12 months, as Dick's sight has deteriorated, it has become even more important for him to be able to depend upon and further develop those senses.

'You have to be able to hear the boat flowing through the water and listen to the flap of the sails as well as being able to learn to feel the boat's weight on the tiller. Verbal communication is also critical for all members of the crew. And you have to be good listeners. The tactician has to paint us a picture and tell us what to do.

'Just because we can't see, we’re still out there doing it and we race just as hard as any sighted fleet,' Dick said.

The 2009 World Blind Sailing Championships, which currently has financial support from Bay Trust, the Rotorua District Council, the Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust and SPARC, will provide an opportunity to showcase everything the sport, the Rotorua region and New Zealand has to offer the many international crews and supporters that are expected to compete.

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